Codes for Loads – Making Our Buildings Work with Renewable Power Grids

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), policies that require or set goals for all energy supply to be renewable by a chosen date mostly within the next two decades. The Biden Administration earlier this year gave RPS goals a boost by calling for a 100% renewable energy grid by 2035. Given this strong market signal, we expect an increasing number of states to adopt renewable standards in the coming years as well as building codes that help solve the challenges that come with a decarbonized grid.

While moving to a clean energy grid is a necessity to address climate change, improving the way buildings use energy by maximizing efficiency and demand flexibility will be critical to solve some of the grid management challenges that come with a renewable-dominated grid. In regions with significant renewable percentages, utilities often have to deeply discount power prices or must curtail renewable power resources during peak solar generation periods to maintain grid stability. In order to maximize the potential of this lower carbon electricity, policymakers should consider buildings as an integral part of the effort to re-energize America’s power infrastructure.

A new roadmap from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy affirms this view. The National Roadmap for Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings sets a goal to triple the energy efficiency and demand flexibility of the building sector by 2030 relative to 2020 levels and deliver between $100 and $200 billion in savings to the U.S. power system, reduce carbon emissions by 80 million tons per year by 2030, and relieve stress on the grid. The roadmap shares 14 recommendations including federal, state, and local government action that would accelerate grid-interactive efficient building deployment.

Recognizing buildings as a grid asset

For more than a century, the power grid has relied on one-way energy flows from large centralized plants, usually powered by fossil fuels. But new technologies, and markets that enable them, have emerged for two-way communication between buildings and the grid. The grid-enabled buildings (GEBs) of the future will be 1) energy-efficient; 2) flexible using on-site distributed generation, storage, and demand-side management strategies; 3) connected with two-way communication to support the grid and occupants’ needs; and 4) “smart” with analytics, sensing, and controls that manage strategies and co-optimize costs, use, and comfort.



Utilities have more than 15 years of experience designing real-time energy management (RTEM) and demand response programs. These offerings incentivize building owners to install technologies such as programmable thermostats and appliances and energy storage (batteries and electric vehicle charging), which can automatically reduce demand during certain seasons and times of the day such as when demand is at a peak. GEBs can receive signals from the grid that lower demand enough to balance loads. Yet grid-interactive efficient buildings go much further with extensive capabilities to not only modify volume and time of energy use, but also to integrate onsite generation, energy storage, sophisticated controls, and monitoring to become an asset for grid reliability.

Work has been done on the design side to define the aspects of a grid-interactive buildings. A new LEED pilot credit known as the GridOptimal Buildings Pilot Alternative Compliance Path (ACP), could empower designers, architects and engineers to lead this paradigm shift: a future in which grid-enabled buildings—those with renewable generation and/or controls that communicate with the grid—play a critical role in meeting 100% renewable electricity goals.

The path to a national standard for grid-interactive efficient buildings

Today, states and utility systems capture the benefits of distributed energy resources differently, and a patchwork of policies and programs across the country have held back widespread market adoption of grid-interactive measures. Research coming from our national labs and the U.S. DOE is laying the foundation for cities and states that want to require, through building codes, certain grid-interactive measures to be integrated into all new construction.

By requiring demand flexibility in addition to energy efficiency in our newly constructed buildings, we can ensure they are an asset to the nation’s 100% renewable energy grid by 2035. Here are the top assignments for near-term progress:

U.S. DOE: Begin rulemakings and RFIs to standardize communications and control protocols for both equipment and entire buildings that interact with the grid. Start with CTA2045-B for water heaters.

ASHRAE: Use the momentum from the Building Decarbonization Task Force and recent developments in 90.1 and 189.1, plus upcoming ASHRAE policy and strategy efforts, to ensure that grid interactivity, along with efficiency and distributed generation, becomes integrated into building design.

International Code Council (ICC): Use the transition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) to a standard, and the new zero energy paths to develop enforceable code language to support building-grid interactivity.

States and cities: California (now followed by Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island) has demonstrated that requiring grid-interactive capabilities is not preempted by federal regulation. California has a series of GEB devices and performance requirements in Title 24. Likewise, every state and city should consider how they can adopt codes to support GEBs in their next code cycle. These efforts will help drive down the cost of such measures.

Pursuing GEBs will allow the nation to fully optimize the renewable resources being added to the grid while making electricity more affordable to renters and owners. Electrification of building loads could necessitate large investments in new grid resources for storage and distribution; a smart increase in GEBs capabilities will reduce those new expenses that could end up on ratepayers’ bills. With buildings accounting for more than 70% of U.S. electricity consumption and 39% percent of carbon emissions, policymakers have no time to lose. Cities and states can leverage developments coming from the DOE, the national labs, and California to immediately move forward on a powerful area of focus: building codes for new construction. Codes can ensure that new buildings are “future-proofed” for the cleaner power supplies of the 21st century. Designing today’s new buildings to be equipped for a renewable energy grid will prove to be a real asset in our nation’s transition to a net zero carbon economy by mid-century.

by Jim Edelson, Director of Policy
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The top image is of zHome Townhomes in Issaquah, WA.